Lauren soon learns that “walking hurts.” Zahra advises the others to suck on the pip of a fruit to stave off thirst, admitting that as a child she would sometimes even suck on rocks. People build campfires even though it is illegal, and Lauren, Harry, and Zahra cook their food on a small fire. While they eat, others wander over and ask for food; one woman offers herself to Lauren (who is in disguise as a man) and Harry, and an old man pleads to use a little fire to cook a single, “withered” potato. They agree, but watch him carefully.
The outside world is governed by animalistic instincts, fears, and desires. Every choice people make is grounded in their need to survive at whatever cost. This makes it unwise to trust almost anyone the characters meet on the road—even people as seemingly harmless as the elderly man.
Zahra reminds them that “nobody’s safe,” and that even little children will rob people, as she once did. They have already witnessed a man being robbed of everything as he walked. Harry is resistant to the harsh and selfish attitude Lauren and Zahra espouse, which leads Lauren to wonder if they should go on without him. She also notices that Harry is looking flirtatiously at Zahra, who is very beautiful, and worries that this will cause trouble during their journey.
Lauren and Zahra are easily able to slip into a survivalist mode of thinking, but Harry is more resistant. He cleaves to the moral code he learned growing up in the neighborhood—but this code is simply not compatible with life beyond the neighborhood gate. However, even Harry cannot fully shake his more animalistic impulses—such as his apparent desire for Zahra.
At that moment, two large men walk over, and one of them smiles at Zahra. Lauren flashes her gun at them and they quickly back off. The trio plan to do the overnight watch in three-hour shifts, with Lauren going first. Harry gives Lauren his wristwatch, a gift from his mother. Zahra asks Lauren to teach her to read and write, explaining that back in the neighborhood Richard didn’t allow her to learn. Lauren promises they can start lessons in the morning. They admit that they didn’t used to like each other, but now they do. Zahra remarks that Lauren seems to have anticipated and prepared for the disaster that struck the neighborhood, but Lauren replies that she simply “thought something would happen someday.”
To some extent, the neighborhood is presented as a place of inclusivity and mutual support. However, Lauren and Zahra’s evolving friendship demonstrates that there were also sharp divisions between the residents of their old community. It is only when they have moved beyond the confines of the neighborhood that they are able to realize how similar they are to one another and to develop a close relationship—as well as enjoy other freedoms, which in Zahra’s case includes learning to read and write.
Lauren’s time keeping watch is exhausting and terrifying. She hears people and gunfire in the distance, but fortunately no one approaches her. After handing over to Harry, she falls asleep immediately, but awakes again to the sound of gunshots nearby. Suddenly, a dead man’s body falls onto her. She sees Harry wrestling with another man who is trying to take his gun. Lauren takes a rock and brings it down onto the man’s head; she is knocked down by his pain. Harry and Zahra rush to check on her, and they discover that the injured man is somehow still alive, although unconscious. His skull has caved in, and Lauren realizes that she must kill him. Harry is resistant to giving her the gun, saying that the man might survive, but Lauren says without medical care he will only suffer before eventually dying.
This scene confirms the fact that Lauren is in even greater danger in the outside world than Harry or Zahra are because of her hyperempathy. At the same time, Lauren defies Keith’s prediction that she would be weakened by her hyperempathy to the point of not being able to survive. In actual fact, Lauren’s condition often makes her behave in an even more fierce and ruthless manner than she otherwise would. She cannot survive around people in mortal pain, and thus has no choice but to kill the man she has injured.
Unable to get the gun from Harry, Lauren retrieves a knife from her pack and slits the man’s throat. She tells Harry and Zahra to strip the two dead bodies and take anything useful. She takes food and money from the pockets of one of the men, but leaves behind a packet of purple pills. Lauren and Zahra move the bodies and cover them with dirt, then decide to move their camp. Lauren is worried that Harry and Zahra will no longer want to travel with her after seeing her kill the man, so she decides to tell them about her mother and hyperempathy. Harry remains standoffish, telling Lauren that he would not have killed the man; Lauren tells him that she would not have asked him to. Zahra admits that her mother also took drugs and that most of the babies where she came from were born with drug-related abnormalities.
Somewhat ironically, Harry’s strict sense of morality prevents him from empathizing with Lauren. The fact that Zahra is better able to understand Lauren’s reasoning highlights the fact that Harry’s moral rigidity emerges from his (relatively) privileged background. Zahra, whose difficult past has led her to be more aware of the dark realities of the world, understands that Lauren is not to blame for the condition she was born with—nor for the steps she must take to protect herself and survive.
Zahra and Lauren hug, and Lauren wonders why they had not been friends back in the neighborhood. Lauren assures Harry that she wouldn’t kill someone who had a non-life-threatening injury. She takes his hands and promises that she won’t “betray” him. She explains that her father taught her to hide her hyperempathy as an act of self-defense. Harry admits that he feels as if Lauren is “a lie,” and asks to read or hear something that reveals the truth about her. After some hesitation, Lauren shows him the first lines of Earthseed scripture: “All that You touch / You change, / All that you Change / Changes you… God is Change.” Lauren notes that these lines say “everything.”
This passage represents a significant turning point in Lauren’s relationship with Harry and Zahra. Lauren is extremely secretive about Earthseed, particularly after her conversation with Joanne. Even though Lauren never told Joanne about Earthseed, simply revealing her thoughts about life and the future triggered a hostile, panicked reaction in her friend. Lauren then takes a large risk by explaining Earthseed to Harry and Zahra; it is not yet clear whether this will pay off.